Individual's survival without a society?
March 16, 2007 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Which books (or movies) have a similar survivalism theme as 'I am Legend' by Richard Matheson? The specific theme I'm looking for: one person, fighting to hold on to their sanity without the support of any other people. Not necessarily postapocalyptic, just a person struggling to maintain their humanity despite limited/no other human contact.
posted by philomathoholic to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't read I am Legend, but that sounds like a description of "Life of Pi."
posted by JMOZ at 10:54 PM on March 16, 2007

Response by poster: tag suggestions welcomed
posted by philomathoholic at 10:57 PM on March 16, 2007

You might like "The Bet,", a short story by Anton Chekhov. It's brief and to your point.
posted by cgc373 at 11:02 PM on March 16, 2007

Earth Abides, to some extent The Day of the Triffids – in both, the main character is isolated by circumstance and only encounters a few other people in the course of the story.
posted by zadcat at 11:06 PM on March 16, 2007

Written for a younger audience, but Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is like this. Can't remember how much of a mental struggle the protagonist goes through though.
posted by meta87 at 11:13 PM on March 16, 2007

Cast Away? The movie with Tom Hanks in it. He's stranded on an island and adopts a volleyball as his friend in a bid to stay sane.

I'm not very sure if that fits the theme you're looking for.

I second Touching the Void. Pretty inspirational movie!
posted by Mrs PuGZ at 11:15 PM on March 16, 2007

Haven't read I Am Legend, but this seems to apply somewhat to The Catcher in the Rye. Holden really wants to connect with people, but during the whole book, he's basically on an emotional downward spiral and is quite alone, despite being in one of the world's largest cities.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:19 PM on March 16, 2007

Response by poster: I actually remember reading Hatchet when I was younger. For this question, I am looking more for the psychological struggle of "why go on?" than the mechanics of survival (finding food, water etc.).

The part of the life-raft survival in Life of Pi sounds interesting, I will put that book on my list. From wikipedia, I surmise that Touching the Void is similar to Hatchet.

cmgonzalez: Yes that is very much what I am looking for. Although I have already read that book.

I realize my question has an element of vagueness, hopefully these clarifications will help. And, thanks for the answers so far.
posted by philomathoholic at 11:23 PM on March 16, 2007

I'm currently reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and it fits that description.
posted by hashashin at 11:37 PM on March 16, 2007

Robinson Crusoe

Selkirk's Island: The True and Strange Adventures of the Real Robinson Crusoe

And to a lesser extent...

The Stand

Lucifer's Hammer
posted by frogan at 11:51 PM on March 16, 2007

Well... I am Legend spawned two movies: The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price and The Omega Man with Charleton Heston
posted by thebrokenmuse at 11:57 PM on March 16, 2007

Book: Z For Zachariah
Movie: The Quiet Earth
posted by scalefree at 1:05 AM on March 17, 2007

You could try Kerouac's Desolation Angels
posted by lucien at 2:40 AM on March 17, 2007

How about Matheson's other novel The Shrinking Man?
posted by infinitewindow at 3:00 AM on March 17, 2007

Not so serious, but how about Red Dwarf?. The books more so than the series, probably. If it's a 'why go on' psychological struggle you want, you may like P.D. James' The Children of Men (again, the book more then the film).

I absolutely hated Life Of Pi.
posted by corvine at 5:16 AM on March 17, 2007

(The Children of Men is not about a single human, btw, it's the human race faced with its own extinction through infertility, but it's certainly got the psychological themes you're after)
posted by corvine at 5:19 AM on March 17, 2007

Wittgenstein's Mistress, an experimental novel by David Markson. It picks up the story of the last woman on Earth about ten years after every other person just up and vanishes one day.
posted by BackwardsCity at 5:57 AM on March 17, 2007

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
posted by lgyre at 10:08 AM on March 17, 2007

The Children of Men

CoM kind of re-works an Infertile Britain theme that Brit writers have been doing for a long time now. Aldiss' "Greybeard" and Cowpers" Twilight of Briarius" (sp?) did this in the 60s/70s with much the same kind of affect. There was a recent BBC documentary series "Sci Fi Britannia" that except for the inevitably numerous Kim Newman appearances was quite broad and covered a lot of the apocalypse lit from that island going back into the 19th century. Definitely worth downloading "The End of the World As We Know It".
posted by meehawl at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2007

corvine raises a good point about Red Dwarf, while it technically has several characters, Lister is the last human alive. (His companions are an evolved cat, a robot, a hologram, a talking toaster, and a computer.) The trilogy actually has some poignant moments involving Lister dealing with his isolation.
posted by quin at 12:08 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thinking about it a bit more, I've come to realize that I am looking more for "survival in seclusion"/"mental life of a recluse". To that end the following books seem to be more or less near the mark (determined by a cursory search through Wikipedia and Amazon):

Life of Pi
The Bet (too short to turn down)
The Catcher in the Rye (very similar themes)
The Road (pretty darn close)
Z for Zachariah (sounds pretty close)
Desolation Angels (sounds pretty good)
The Shrinking Man (possibly, I'll know after I've read it)
The Children of Men
Wittgenstein's Mistress (spot on)
Oryx and Crake (sounds very good)
Red Dwarf (not as sure about this one, but I'll give it a try)
The Twilight of Briareus (? the available info is pretty slim)
Greybeard (I'll have to decide on this one after reading it)
Notes from the Underground (has some similarities to Catcher, from my own list)

But, of course, all of the other books will be put on my to-read list anyway, because I can't turn down good books. And because it's pretty hard to know from the available information, without actually reading it myself.

Thinking about the Castaway movie, it occurs to me that the reason I would prefer a book over a movie with the same subject matter is that a book allows more insight into the protagonist's mind.

I hope it doesn't bother anyone if I consider an AskMe post something like a dialogue, instead of a one-time question.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:33 PM on March 17, 2007

The Shrinking Man, also by Matheson, clearly meets your criteria.
posted by SPrintF at 5:14 PM on March 17, 2007

Adrift chronicles the true story of Steven Callahan's 76 days lost at sea on a life raft. Really fun read. It's a lot of mechanics of survival but he certainly experiences periods of WHY in there too.

Maybe some of Jon Krakauer's stuff - especially Into the Wild.

You might look at some of the Southern Gothic writers who sometimes address isolation and sanity within an environment that's peculiar and often borderlines on insane.

I'm definitely adding some of these to my summer list.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:48 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: For the record, in some more research I found that Mary Shelley's Last Man sounds like it fits my description.
(the same Mary Shelley that wrote Frankenstein)
posted by philomathoholic at 1:07 AM on March 18, 2007

Concrete Island by J. G. Ballard
Gerald's Game by Stephen King

I also strongly recommend the horrific classic short story by Harlan Ellison, "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream."

You might be interested in the heartrending film Grave of the Fireflies.

And obviously, Omega Man.

Depending on how flexible you are on what counts as human contact (and how important humanity may be to the main character), you might enjoy some cyberpunk too.
posted by zebra3 at 12:35 PM on March 19, 2007

Try Gordon Dickson's Wolf and Iron. The main character spends the book trying to survive economic collapse -- through most of the book, the only other characters is a wolf he finds on his journey.
posted by vorfeed at 4:47 PM on March 19, 2007

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